Week in Gaming 1/17/2016

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weekingamingIt has been awhile since I have done one of these, and of the various failed columns that I have tried over the years…. I think this one is the best for me personally.  Sunday is a rough day in general, in part because I wake up and have to finish up AggroChat and get it out to the various locations.  As a result it helps to have a fairly formulaic option I can lean on when I am not feeling super inspired.  As a result I am leaning once again on the Week in Gaming series just to talk about a bunch of stuff I played this week.

Pax South Hype!

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I am starting to get super excited for Pax South.  Last year I had various companies ask me for a business card, and I was somewhat kicking myself for not having any.  I mean I guess part of me never really thought that having a business card for a blog and podcast was a good idea.  This year however I have gotten my ass in order and if everything works as intended the cards will arrive at the beginning of next week.  I only ordered 250 because I could not in any circumstance think of a reason why I would need that many.  The design was done by Rae and was originally intended to be our Pax Prime cards, but since we were denied media access to that convention they never actually got made.  I resurrected the idea because I thought it was pretty slick.  In the original design each of the hosts has their own color, and given that I love green I latched onto that one.  As far as a back design I went with something simple because I felt like it needed something on the back….  and in truth that is the crux of our thing…  daily posts, weekly cast.  If you are also going to be at Pax South let me know, I would love to meet up with everyone that I can while I am there.

Undertale

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I have some mixed feelings about Undertale so far.  On one level I really like the game and it feels like something that is going to be an interesting experience.  The negative is I absolutely HATE the combat system.  I hate mini-games, and while I was corrected last night on the podcast…. I am sorry but that isn’t a real combat system.  Part of me just wants to run away from every single fight so that I don’t have to do it.  I mean granted I was using arrow keys and maybe that makes it worse than it actually is, but I just hate the concept of breaking out of an otherwise fun old school RPG style game….  and having to deal with move the heart to avoid shit.  For now I have essentially abandoned the game, in the hopes that some distance will in fact make the heart grow fond.  Essentially I love everything else about the game… other than the combat system.  This might be one of those games that is more enjoyable to watch.

Victor Vran

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I’ve already talked about this game quite a bit throughout the week but I feel like it still deserves additional mention.  The only negative about this game is that I started playing it essentially the week before a bunch of other things that I wanted to play happened.  My hope is that once the recent infatuation with Warframe and Diablo 3 Season 5 have calmed down, I can return to this and play my way through the main story some more.  I really want to see what multiplayer feels like in the end game experience.  Playing it was fine for me… but essentially locked the other players that I was dragging along with me… out of some of the experience of interacting with the voice floating around in your head.  If you are not partaking of the Diablo 3 Season 5 madness…. and still want a ARPG fix… I highly suggest you check it out.

Warframe

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This game….  is so good and I am kinda kicking myself for never really giving it a proper attempt at playing.  I have downloaded this game numerous times in the past on the PC, PS3 and PS4 when I saw other folks in my various social media timelines talking about it… but never actually tried it.  I guess in my head I had this absolutely misrepresented as to what sort of game it was.  With a super generic name like Warframe… I kept getting it jumbled up with the other game Warface.  Warface being a super generic Call of Duty/Counterstrike style PVP shooter.  So in my head I equated Warframe to a PVP experience… not this deeply nuanced cooperative PVE experience.  There are so many aspects of this game that remind me of an MMO, but not necessarily in the traditional sense.  The game as a whole feels like this amalgam of Destiny, Phantasy Star Online and Tribes.  If that combination sounds like something you would be interesting, I highly suggest you check it out.  I think I was largely luckier than most in that one of the freebie mechs, the Excalibur is right down my alley.  I am slashing everything with my space ninja ways, and really enjoying myself.  For those curious, I have pretty much set down roots on the PC, and while I might give it a shot later on the PS4, I have no real intention of moving at the moment as the AggroChat crew seem to all be playing it.

Diablo 3

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The floodgates for Diablo 3 Season 5 opened on Friday at 7pm and from that point until 10:30 or so my time I was running around in a group leveling like mad.  At this point I have managed to get to 68, which puts me behind the curve of folks like Grace that are 70 with over 150 paragon levels.  That however is fine by me, because I am just happy I am almost to the cap with at least one character.  I am going to be interested in seeing what the various challenges are that unlock the various seasonal rewards.  What makes the season play so addictive to me is the fact that it mimics a MMO launch.  Everyone on your friends list for a period of time is playing Diablo 3 and excited about it, as though they were playing a brand new game.  So you have a few weeks of focused play, and then don’t feel guilty at all when you shift back to playing other games until the launch of the next season.  This focused excitement is really fun to experience, and this is technically my third season so far.  There is part of me that wishes I had gotten on board with the concept earlier.  My goal today is to finish up my Crusader and then probably focus on some more Warframe.  Hopefully all of you readers out there have had an equally fun week, and Pax South seriously could not get here soon enough.

Pumpkin King

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The Hammer

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All day long yesterday I had been craving some more Victor Vran, so when I got home last night… I fed the animals… fed myself… and plunked down on the couch to play some more.  Firstly I have to say how nice it runs on my aging gaming laptop.  For many games that I would want to play downstairs… like Dragon Age: Inquisition or Fallout 4… they simply do not run well on the dual 650 video cards that the laptop has in it.  This game however looks gorgeous and runs at a solid 60 fps, which makes me happy.  Granted graphically it is a much more simple game than the ones I rattled off, but nonetheless it makes me happy.  While roaming around last night I found this crazy boss fight, that spawned after taking down several other bosses in an area.  Upon defeating the specter it announced that if I would only spare him…  I could have access to his truly rare wares.  When I opened up the vendor window I saw my very first purple weapon…. the Pumpkin Hammer.  So I proceeded to liquidate everything in my inventory except my handful of favorite weapons… and was barely able to afford it.

It is every bit as cool as you might imagine.  Firstly you are running around with a giant jack-o-lantern on a stick which in itself has a cool factor.  To add to the effect however, when you hit anything…  it spawns a pumpkin bomb on the ground… which moments later then explodes taking out more stuff.  The only negative here is it actually cost me an objective last night.  The objective was to take out a handful of monsters with the hammer… problem being that in one case at least the pumpkin bomb went off and finished off the monster and as a result it did not count.  So that is something to watch, but what I like about it is the fact that the attack animation seems much faster than the standard hammer.  It hits for slightly less than my previous hammer, but since I am able to hit more often it balances out in the end.  Other than the hammer the ghost sold a few spells, that also looked pretty great…  but after bankrupting myself I could not afford anything else.  From the sound of the message it seems like the creature appears at random in various levels, so hopefully I can build back up my gold reserves by the time I see him again.

Guyver Time

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Warframe and I have this strange relationship… where I have downloaded it for PC, PS3 and PS4…  but never actually played it.  I’ve seen friends on my various social media timelines playing it for ages, and been intrigued.  The problem being that I apparently had the wrong impression of what sort of game it actually was.  In my head I had this filed away as some sort of PVP experience, when in truth it is largely a PVE team based experience.  Over the weekend Ashgar and Tamrielo discovered the game, and Monday night I was going to join them.  Unfortunately there were some complications…. namely that for whatever reason my ISP could not connect to Warframe.com or any of the game servers for a period of time.  As a result I instead spent the entire night playing Victor Vran and had a blast doing so.  Since I spent the evening on the sofa, it meant that I needed to download the client again, and about half way through the evening I switched games.

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So far I have to say I am pretty impressed.  I am only running the game at 720p because I didn’t want to have any possible frame rate issues on the laptop, however the game itself looks gorgeous.  In many way its missions remind me of the missions from Mass Effect 2 and 3.  The most fun I had was this mission we did as a group where we entered a ship, triggered an alarm and then tried to hold out as long as we could.  We managed to make it up until the point that the ship started spawning in waves of level 5 mobs…  at which point we retreated to the extraction zone and held that tunnel for as long as we could before making a break for it.  Towards the end these firebombing mobs started coming in and we damned near lost Ashgar.  I myself came precariously close to dying a few times, only to get revived in a similar fashion to how you can players in Destiny.  All in all it was a really good experience, and I think honestly the Excaliber warframe suits me pretty well.  I like the blade, and for my main weapon I ended up choosing a bow.  Later I spent a little money on the game and got some upgrades and now my secondary weapon is a heavy double firing pistol called the Kraken.  I also spent some time making the suit look more “me”.  Look forward to playing more over the coming weeks.

 

Victor Vran Review

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Secrets Abound

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One of the hardest parts about getting steam gifts for folks… is trying to pick a game that you think they will really like.  I know in one case every single game I thought “man that is perfect” for a friend of mine, it turned he had… and had already beaten.  Every now and then someone completely nails it though, and I think this year my friend Ashgar did just that.  As a kid I envisioned this game that I wanted to create, that was a lot like Castlevania in setting, but while adventuring you might see something in the background of a level.  Then through doing a specific ability sequence you would be able to enter the background and find secret areas.  The concept was pretty straight forward, and I’ve mentally conformed it to lots of different genres.  The game I have been playing however… Victor Vran… does this thing and does it extremely well.  You cannot imagine how exited I was the first time I played the game and saw it doing pretty much that thing I had always wanted to do.  The game has old school secret areas, that are accessed by blowing up walls, jumping over seemingly impassable objects… or sometimes wall jumping your way up to a higher game field that you didn’t notice at first.

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The gameplay itself is this strange amalgam of Diablo, with a setting that feels like the love child of Witcher and Castlevania.  The monkey wrench into the traditional Diablo model is that the Z axis exists… you can jump and even deliver jump attacks.  In many ways there are aspects of the game that remind me of Guild Wars 2, where there are several different types of weapons you can pick up and wield:  sword, rapier, hammer, lightning gun, shotgun, spellbook, scythe, and mortar.  There might be other weapons available but these are the ones that I have seen so far, and each of them comes with a specific main attack… as well as two special attacks that are bound to Q and E if you are using the keyboard and mouse controls.  In addition to this you have two demonic power slots, which serve as spells that you pick up while playing the game.  These are extremely varied and do everything from hurling down fireballs at the opponent, to shielding the player… to throwing you into a frenzied rage increasing your melee damage…. but also causing you to take more damage yourself at the time.

Your Destiny

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Finally you have a series of Destiny cards that tweak your character in certain ways.   At level 18 I have 11 Destiny points worth of cards that I can use at any given time… and as I open chests, kill monsters, and complete quests I often times have the chance of picking up additional cards.  These vary greatly in their effect… so for example The Sun that I have equipped gives me a chance of proccing a huge explosion anytime I “overkill” a mob… meaning deal more damage than is needed to kill them in a single hit.  Others like Hope simply increases your hitpoint pool directly, and others still add additional combat traits like The Vampire which causes all of your attacks to life steal.  The game feels like it has just enough customization to let you feel like you have some measure of control on how your character feels, but not so much as to cause a quagmire of possible build options.  Diablo almost suffers from this at times, and it feels like in order to really play your character efficiently you need to do a lot more planning than I really want to do while playing a game.  In this game I often fiddle with my equipped items in the middle of levels just to see how it feels differently, and the ability to hot swap between two different weapons comes in extremely handy when dealing with different monster types.

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The aspect of the game that most endeared me, was that every single area of the game feels like it is part of the larger game as a whole.  What I mean by that is that there is one big play field for an area, and then linked off of that are a bunch of smaller sub dungeons.  Then those dungeons often times are cross linked to other dungeons as well, giving the progression of play field an almost MMO like quality.  Sure this exists in Diablo, but it feels almost accidental rather than “these are the building blocks of this zone”.  What I like quite a bit is the fact that you can get a preview of a zone before you actually enter it.  The above screen is an example of that, it shows what the new zone is, some examples of what kind of critters might be found in it… as well as a listing of all of the challenges.  So in the above example I know that I probably want to have a scythe at the ready, so I can swap to it in order to kill a certain type of mob in the zone known as the “Volkavs”.  I know the area has three secrets to find, and that I want to try really hard to power up my demon abilities so that I can kill lots of mobs with them.  Then while going through the level each time you trigger one of those objectives it spawns in some sort of a reward.  Finding all of the secrets will reward lots of gold, or slaying the champions will spawn a banner that starts to spit out experience globes for example.  Each of the symbols out beside the objective means something different.

Not Perfect, But Fun

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When I initially looked at this game, there was a lot that made me interested…. but the big turnoff was that you seemed to be playing a single character named Victor Vran that almost felt like this generic demon hunter character.  Now that I have gotten into the game, the setting itself is way cooler than I gave it credit, but at the same time… it does feel a bit like a heavy metal video.  You are a lone demon hunter entering a city that has fallen to the demons…  one that has been a death trap for so many other hunters.  As you go through the zones you are constantly seeing reminders of other hunters fallen and dead, and as the plot unfolds you get an understanding of why exactly this one city has been so besieged.  There are so many common tropes here that the story itself could be a bit of a turn off for many players.  The gameplay and moment to moment fun of the game however is amazing.  You end up picking up a “Bob the Skull” like companion that serves as a voice in your head… and a running narration of your actions.  There is a moment when if you don’t head towards the clear objective… but instead wander around trying to make sure you have cleared everything out… he accuses you of going in the wrong direction…. and then begins to sing the “Brave Sir Robin” song from Monty Python.  So at times this ever present narrator feels like it does in say Thomas Was Alone or Bastion.

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The other negative is… you are stuck being Victor.  You don’t get to create your own demon slayer, but instead are dumped into the role of this existing one.  So much like playing Uncharted where you are always going to be Nathan Drake…  you are always going to be Victor Vran.  I mean I get why they are doing what they are doing, because it makes a much cleaner and more simple narrative path for the game.  That said you encounter other cool characters, that I had hoped maybe you would be able to take them out adventuring instead.  You meet another Demon Hunter pretty early on named Irene, who eventually serves the role of selling advanced gear back in the castle.  It would have been really cool if when you met her… you could have chosen to take her out adventuring instead with Victor guarding the hunter stores.  Similarly you bump into a royal guard, that I could see taking out for a spin, or a grumpy old military adviser or priest.  The feeling that you are adventuring with a team and rather than just one dude with a sword would have been welcome.  I guess they are still adding content and planning on releasing expansions, so here is hoping at some point they will flesh out some of that.

Team Play

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Last night my focus was less of working through my own story, and more on hanging out with Grace and Thalen who now also have the game.  At first it felt like there was not much challenge at all, but I think maybe the game has trouble scaling up content the moment a new player joins.  As we started moving around more the challenge level seemed to increase to something of an average of our levels.  So for Grace and Thalen the mobs probably felt really rough, and for me… since I was as eight levels over the next closest player in the above example…  it felt something on the easy side.  What I enjoyed the most about group play, was that even though I had already completed the objectives… I was still able to get rewards from helping Grace and Thalen complete them.  Additionally “Kill X” type tasks… count for the entire group so every hammer kill counted for a hammer kill objective… regardless of who got the final blow.  The game seems to use Diablo style personal loot, and the exploration aspect was really cool when one of us would figure out how to get up to some secret… then have to show the others how to get there as well.  My only real complaint about grouping was that there is no trade system.  I would have happily dropped some decent weapons on my friend when we first started, because I personally have ended up favoring a specific set of weapons that is different from what they ultimately ended up enjoying.  All of this said…  the game works well, is gorgeous to play through… and controls better that I would expect.  If you are looking for a fun dungeon crawler with some unique twists on the Diablo model… I highly suggest you check it out.